Category Archives: callousness

An attribute of the Gilbertese

It was no concern of the men with canoes

Dalrymple notes that the Gilbertese

neither forgot nor forgave an injury. They might take their revenge many years later.

They were

entirely lacking in public spirit, seemingly concerned only for the welfare of their own extended families.

They were capable of displaying

a callousness towards the sufferings of those not of their lineage which foreigners were bound to find repellent.

In Fool or Physician, Dalrymple relates that the Pacific historian and anthropologist H.E. Maude, who was Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands Colony in the late ’40s,

told the story of how he one day saw a woman drowning out to sea. He asked some men with canoes who were standing on the shore watching her plight why they did not rescue her. ‘Why should we?’ they replied. ‘She is not our relative.’

Report on the colonisation of the Phœnix Islands

Accentuate the negative

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 23.44.25It is easier, writes Dalrymple,

to be interesting about the bad than about the good.

And writing about the good

can easily descend into mere moral uplift.

Besides,

we live in an age when the slightest sign of complacency, as exemplified by counting your blessings, is regarded by the intelligentsia almost as indifference to the suffering of the world. How can anyone be so callous as to enjoy anything when there is civil war in the southern Sudan?

Broken windows

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Charming

Dalrymple picks up a copy of A China Passage by J.K. Galbraith, the American fellow traveller who was highly esteemed and very wealthy (he spent his winters at Gstaad) but who also possessed a touching simplicity and modesty.

In 1973, Dalrymple explains, Galbraith had visited China

in the slipstream of Nixon.

It was during the Cultural Revolution, with its

appalling suffering, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.44.08The big generalisations are all agreed upon: there has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.

The remarks, Dalrymple points out, are extremely callous. Galbraith offers vignettes of the Cultural Revolution like this one:

The workers were rather proud of having confined their fighting to the morning. Sadly some windows did get broken.

Such is the way, writes Dalrymple, that Galbraith discusses

the greatest episode of deliberate cultural vandalism of modern history, accompanied as it was by cruelty on a gargantuan scale.

Galbraith is

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.05a mouthpiece of Maoist propaganda, accepting its categories uncritically. In the 1920s and 30s, sheeplike Western travellers in Russia had accepted its category of kulak. Similarly, Galbraith can write about a factory that

had been partially disrupted until the People’s Liberation Army moved in to restore order. The union I gather to have been one of the reactionary elements that aroused the antipathy of the Red Guards. It was disestablished.

This use, says Dalrymple,

of the phrase reactionary elements betrays a startling lack of awareness that visitors to the Communist world had been gulled before. Nor was Galbraith interested in who the Red Guards were or what they actually did. The fate of individual people was far beneath his notice, which explains why his anecdotes are so rarely interesting, let alone illuminating. His is a humanitarianism without a human face.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.43.28

By an American aristocrat

Galbraith tells a story about how the Chinese farmed areas of low fertility:

We were told how one production brigade had transported soil for many miles to make one peculiarly rocky spread slightly productive.

According to Galbraith, the decline in agriculture in New England

would not have taken place if politicians rather than market forces had been in charge. The moral of the story for Galbraith?

The market can be ruthless as politicians cannot.

That market relations, Dalrymple comments,

can sometimes exact a human price is no doubt true; but to have lived through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and to suggest that there is any cruelty and depravity of which politicians are not capable, requires a capacity for incomprehension amounting almost to genius.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.19This remark is also made in the book:

At the close of almost every meeting one is asked for ‘your criticisms’ of the institution or the New China. I’ve found one that is true, irrefutable and well-received. ‘You are smoking far too many cigarettes.’

Dalrymple comments:

Millions of people beaten, tortured, and humiliated, the remains of a millennial civilization wantonly smashed, and Galbraith bravely takes up the antismoking cause.

Galbraith wrote of the Nanking Hotel:

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

I have a bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom and air conditioning. But that is sufficient.

What touching simplicity and modesty, says Dalrymple. However, in Paris, having suffered such deprivation in Nanking, he is more salubriously accommodated:

I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of culture shock.

Dalrymple comments:

How delightful to be so generous, so very right all the time, and yet make a fortune and stay at the Ritz!